The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouk, in this interview, explains how the recently launched Alternate School Programme will reduce the number of out-of-school children in the country among other things.
The launch of the Alternate School Programme has reopened conversations on the increasing number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. What is this programme meant to achieve?
It’s an intervention programme focused on providing education in a flexible way to out-of-school children (OOSC). It also provides them with social investment programme benefits. The Alternate School Programme (ASP) also targets the humanitarian and social challenges faced by the OOSC.
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The ASP will bring basic education to these children so that they’re equipped with the education and skills to be part of the social-economy as they grow. It will also pair the existing Social Investment Programmes to their particular circumstances. For example, with the Home Grown School Feeding, these children will be provided nutrition when they are being schooled.
Directly, the ASP will reduce the number of OOSC while providing social protection to them and their families or guardians. The Social Investment Programmes themselves also help the local economies of those who are recipients. Some of these OOSC are loitering around the towns and cities, others are at the markets, some are at the mechanic and spare-parts villages, some are at the motor parks, and many are the almajirai (many are in Islamic schooling and care, others are just beggars on the streets) who are mainly in the Northern part of our country, etc. Most of these children are about 10 – 12 years today. In the next 10 years, they will be 20–22. Reducing the number of OOSC will reduce the risks these children are faced with.
The long term benefit for Nigerians is that this investment in education, coupled with the humanitarian needs of these children being met, allows these children to fulfil their potential and be protected as Nigerians. This ability to provide education and social welfare to children is an investment for Nigeria’s future. When we invest in our nation’s children, provide them with the ability to be productive members of society, that benefits us all. This ASP is an investment into our collective future. This is why the president decided to further intensify the education activities reaching these children so that we can mop up as many of these children off the street and inject at least a basic amount of education in their lives to ensure they either join the formal education system or inclusively participate in nation building appropriately.
How do you react to insinuations that the programme will be another waste of government resources?
I want to assure Nigerians that this programme utilises already existing resources. We have learned lessons from past interventions and along with our partners, we’re committed to applying these lessons and bridging the remaining gaps. It is not simply a case of throwing more resources at a problem, but creatively targeting and providing a solution to problems.
There have been several other programmes with similar objectives in the past. What makes this one different?
This programme is different because it’s coupled with social welfare elements; it’s not an education programme alone, it’s not a social protection programme alone. It’s a combination aimed at children who need both in order to gain a benefit. There are education programmes that children are not able to access due to socio-economic factors. Likewise, there are some social investment programmes where the social welfare provided does not cover the educational needs of the children. This programme does both for those children in circumstances that require help in both areas.
How will the government select beneficiaries?
The children will be chosen from all over the country, different groups of children unable to access education including those in IDP camps, those in vulnerable conditions, victims of insurgency and social and environmental dislocation, children on the streets and in markets, etc. It’s important to us that no one is left behind and for this purpose, we have a Technical Working Group (TWG) with members drawn from across government ministries, international organisations and civil society organisations. The TWG will go into the field to document and organize these children so that we can systematically intervene.
Why is your ministry, instead of the Ministry of Education, involved in the programme?
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development is not a specific sectoral ministry. It’s literally a jack of all trades and master of none ministry specifically established to coordinate all poverty eradication activities in Nigeria, facilitate effective cooperation between all stake stakeholders in poverty eradication and ensure the deployment of an effective social safety net system on the poor and vulnerable Nigerians. Out-of-school children (OOSC) are part of the poor and vulnerable whose management falls under the generic mandate of my ministry. But because education is the sectoral subject matter specialist, we must cooperate very closely with the Federal Ministry of Education to ensure there are no unnecessary duplications, no wastage of resources, enhanced complementarity and technical effectiveness, and most importantly, to achieve the desired high impacts of the programme.
The programme is jointly chaired by my ministry and the Federal Ministry of Education. The involvement of my ministry is needed for the humanitarian intervention addressing the underlying issues OOSC experience. Due to the circumstances many OOSC are faced with, they’re unable to access educational opportunities. Their circumstances – socio-economic, cultural, etc. – determine their level of access. My ministry, which is responsible for humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, provides a means to close some of these gaps to enable these children fulfil their right to education.
Lack of implementation has been the bane of most government policies and programmes. How will the ASP be implemented?
The ASP will be implemented across the country in phases. It’s important to implement this programme strategically and efficiently. We’re all working together to provide this solution for OOSC and ensure that we reach as many as possible.
How does the government plan to sustain this Programme?
Mr President’s directive is very clear. He had submitted that he wants to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030. So, it’s not going to be quick and easy, but it is not impossible. We’re all committed and we’re sure that we’ll get the necessary support of the president, the government and most importantly, the people of Nigeria, to ensure that we succeed.